Boone Helm (1828 – January 14, 1864) was a mountain man and gunfighter of the American West known as the Kentucky Cannibal. Helm was a serial killer who gained his nickname for his opportunistic and unrepentant proclivity for the consumption of human flesh taken from the bodies of enemies and traveling companions. While this was usually done in survival situations, Helm sometimes took flesh in preparation of being in a survival situation.
Boone Helm was born in Kentucky into what was considered an honest, hard-working and respected family. Helm’s family moved to Missouri when he was still a boy. Helm delighted in demonstrating feats of strength and agility, and would goad men into fights and regale others by throwing his Bowie knife into the ground and retrieving it from a horse at full gallop. In one incident that demonstrates his contempt for authority, Helm, on horseback, rebuffed the sheriff’s attempt to arrest him and walked his horse up the stairs of a courthouse and into the courtroom, while circuit court was in session, and verbally harangued the judge.
Helm married 17-year-old Lucinda Browning in 1848 and soon fathered a daughter. Helm became known for his heavy drinking, riding his horse into the house, and beating his wife. The domestic violence grew to such an extent that Lucinda petitioned for divorce. Helm’s father paid for the costs of the divorce. In return, Boone Helm bankrupted his father and ruined his family’s reputation. Helm then decided to move to California, as many others did, in an attempt to find gold.
He enlisted the help of one Littlebury Shoot (an actual person’s name!) to accompany him but when the younger man attempted to back out of the arrangement, Helm stabbed him in the chest, killing poor Shoot instantly. Helm’s brothers and friends pursued and then captured Helm but his alarming behaviour eventually convinced the group that the authorities would be better to take charge of the situation. Helm was committed to an asylum but managed to escape from his warder when on an ill-advised traipse around the local woods.
Continuing on his way to California, Helm continued to dispatch any man who got in his way, eventually confessing to an assembled bunch of renegades that he had devoured some of the victims: “Many’s the poor devil I’ve killed, at one time or another… and the time has been that I’ve been obliged to feed on some of ’em”. A skirmish with some Native Americans led to the group being isolated and adrift in the wilder regions of Oregon during the winter, low on food, provisions and warm clothing. The horses were the first to be sacrificed for both food and their hides but one by one, the party succumbed to the elements, leaving just two; Helm and a man called Burton. In time, Burton elected to shoot himself than suffer the potential indignities that presented themselves – Helm felt otherwise, tucked into one of his dead friend’s legs and put the other under his arm for later.
Helm eventually neared his destination but was still wanted by the law and fled to San Francisco, California. Whilst in California, Helm killed a rancher who had befriended him and taken him in, sheltering him from the vengeance of the law.
Helm then traveled to Oregon and resumed robbing people for a living, frequently murdering them. In 1862 after heavy drinking Helm gunned down an unarmed man named Dutch Fred in a saloon and fled. While on the run, Helm ate another fugitive who had been accompanying him. Captured by the authorities, Helm implored his brother “Old Tex”, one of Helm’s twelve siblings, for assistance. With a considerable amount of money, “Old Tex” paid off all of the witnesses. Unable to convict Helm without witnesses, the authorities released him and he accompanied his brother to Texas. Helm soon reappeared at many of the settlements mentioned before, killing many more men in the process. Finally Helm was apprehended in Montana.
After teaming up with the notorious Henry Plummer and his gang, Helm and four other gang members were captured, arrested, and tried in secret. At trial, Helm kissed the Bible and then proceeded to perjure himself, accusing Jack “Three-Fingered Jack” Garner, Helm’s close friend and fellow gang member of crimes Helm himself had committed. The Montana Vigilantes hanged Helm, Gallager, and other members of the gang in Virginia City, Montana on January 14, 1864 in front of a crowd of six thousand. Upon seeing his friend Gallager hanged, Helm reportedly remarked “Kick away old fellow. My turn next. I’ll be in Hell with you in a minute.”
When the executioner approached Helm, he allegedly exclaimed “Every man for his principles! Hurrah for Jeff Davis (the President of the Confederate States during the Civil War)! Let ‘er rip!” and then jumped off of the hangman’s box before it could be kicked away. Boone Helm is buried in Virginia City’s Boot Hill cemetery – it is unknown exactly how many men he killed and ate.
Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania